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Serbia: Council of Europe Congress delegation recommends to conduct local elections separately from elections at the national level

A 15-member delegation from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, led by Carla Dejonghe (Belgium, ILDG), carried out a mission to observe the partial local elections held on 3 April 2022, in Belgrade and several other municipalities.

On Election Day, seven Congress teams were deployed to Belgrade, Arandelovac, Smederevska Palanka, Kula and Secanj to monitor the procedures, from opening to closing, in about hundred polling stations. Except some inconsistencies and irregularities, overall, voting was calm and conducted by the boards in the polling stations based on a legal framework considered as generally in line with international standards.

However, at a press conference held in Belgrade on 4 April, Ms. Dejonghe raised several recurring issues, already highlighted in the 2016 Congress report. Polling stations were often overcrowded due to the permanent and extended composition of the polling boards, while the minimum presence of permanent members was not always ensured. The Serbian authorities should optimise the management of polling stations, ensuring, at the same time, transparent monitoring of the elections by party observers, she said.

The Head of delegation also called to further develop the training of poll workers with the aim of professionalising them. In order to strengthen the secrecy of the vote, proper polling booths should be introduced instead of cardboard separations. It is also urgent to improve the accessibility of the polling stations for people with disabilities, Ms Dejonghe stressed.

Furthermore, the Congress delegation witnessed, on several occasions, situations where voters came to the polling stations with invitations addressed to deceased people. "The existence of so-called phantom voters on the voters’ lists continues to undermine public trust and confidence in elections and in democracy," warned Ms Dejonghe, calling for an independent audit of the voters’ lists and better coordination between the authorities responsible for updating civil status.

Due to the simultaneous holding of three elections in Belgrade and 12 other municipalities on the same day, voter turnout was high in some places and led to long queues, especially before the polls closed. “The conduct of concurrent elections for different levels of government should be avoided in the future, and a separate Election Day should be dedicated for local and regional self-government to avoid that Presidential or Parliamentary elections overshadow local issues,” Ms Dejonghe stressed.

"The fact that - following cross-party dialogue facilitated by the European Parliament last year - the opposition, at all levels of government, took part in yesterday's elections, is a positive sign and gives us confidence that Serbia can achieve greater democracy – the local government level is the ideal starting point to do so,” concluded the Head of the Congress delegation.

The deployment on polling day was preceded by preparatory meetings on 1 and 2 April with representatives of the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, the Republic Electoral Commission, members of the Serbian delegation to the Congress, the Secretary General of the Standing Conference of Cities and Municipalities, the diplomatic corps, NGOs, the media and the IEOM as well as with candidates and representatives of parties/lists running in the Belgrade election.

Upon request of the competent authorities, the Congress observes local and regional elections in Council of Europe member States and sometimes beyond. The observation of local elections is complementary to the political monitoring process of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which is the cornerstone of local democracy in Europe.

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Elections Strasbourg, France 4 April 2022
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